What does she look like? vs How does she look?

PetroniusArbiter

Member
English
Hey,

How can I explain to someone why we have to use "like" if the question begins with "What" and why we don't if the question begins with "How"?

e.g.

What does she look like?
What was Italy like?
What was dinner like?

How does she look?
How was Italy?
How was dinner?


Do both constructions sound natural, or is one more common than the other?
 
  • sandpiperlily

    Senior Member
    These are very different questions. Let me show you in pairs.

    What does she look like? = describe her physical appearance, generally.
    How does she look? = describe her physical appearance, right now. For example, "She looks beautiful today, with her hair done up."

    What was Italy like? = describe Italy to me
    How was Italy? = did you have a good experience in Italy?

    What was dinner like? = What was the experience of eating dinner like?
    How was dinner? = did you have a good dinner?
     

    PetroniusArbiter

    Member
    English
    What does she look like? = describe her physical appearance, generally.
    How does she look? = describe her physical appearance, right now. For example, "She looks beautiful today, with her hair done up."

    What was Italy like? = describe Italy to me
    How was Italy? = did you have a good experience in Italy?

    What was dinner like? = What was the experience of eating dinner like?
    How was dinner? = did you have a good dinner?
    The difference between the first pair is clear, but not so much the second and third.

    Here's another example where the difference is indiscernible, at least to me:

    How was the weather?
    What was the weather like?


    << Secondary question deleted. >>
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    How was the weather?
    What was the weather like?
    Context is always important.

    What was the weather like?
    It was warm and sunny.

    How was the weather? (for a day at the beach)
    It was wonderful.

    How was the weather? (for skiing at a ski resort where the sun melted all the snow)
    It was awful.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    These are very different questions. Let me show you in pairs.

    What does she look like? = describe her physical appearance, generally.
    How does she look? = describe her physical appearance, right now. For example, "She looks beautiful today, with her hair done up."
    In some contexts, I would agree absolutely.
    In some other contexts "How does she look?" is not solely a question about appearance. It is asking for my interpretation of her state of health based on how she looked.

    For the other questions, I agree with sandpiperlily. The "What" questions call for an objective assessment, the "How" questions are about your experience.

    What was Italy like? = describe Italy to me
    How was Italy? = did you have a good experience in Italy?

    What was dinner like? = What was the experience of eating dinner like?
    How was dinner? = did you have a good dinner?[/QUOTE]
     

    idialegre

    Senior Member
    USA English
    "What...like" and "how" do overlap a great deal, at least in colloquial usage, so it is tricky to understand the differences, but I'll try to give you a few helpful examples.

    "Like" in the sense you are asking about means (more or less) "similar to", and is often, although not always, followed by a noun.

    "He looks like a dancer."
    "Your friend looks a lot like my brother."

    It generally indicates description, i.e., when you ask what Italy was like, or what dinner was like, you are asking for a description.

    "Italy was warm, chaotic, full of wonderful architecture..."
    "Dinner was a long, boring event with a lot of boring people making boring speeches."

    The word "how" is so strongly associated with the phrase "How are you?" that it is very frequently used to ask if something was, in the broadest sense, good or bad.

    "How was Italy?"
    "Oh, we had a great time!"

    "How was dinner?"
    "Delicious."

    "How does she look?"
    "She looks tired/sick/great/healthy...."

    as opposed to

    "What does she look like?"
    "She's tall and thin, with grey hair."

    But as I said, there is a lot of overlap, and Americans, at least, often don't pay too much attention to the difference. So it's perfectly possible to answer "How was dinner?" with a complete rundown of the menu, or to ask "What does she look like?" and mean, "How does she look?"

    I hope this helps a little.
     
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